Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Wrestling: Ten best shots at medals in Atlantic City

Here is a look at the 10 wrestlers (actually 11) from the Open Mike area who have the best chances at capturing a medal this weekend in the 83rd New Jersey State Wrestling Championships at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City.

In all, there are 31 qualifiers (up four from last year) among Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex schools. Unfortunately, Warren Hills sophomore Jarod Ostir is out with an elbow injury, which opens the door for Sparta senior Al Falco, who finished fourth in Region 1 at 170, to make his first trip to AC.

JoJo Aragona (36-0), Pope John -- The freshman may be the area's best hope for state gold as he will look to become his school's first state champ since Brian Unkert won at 145 pounds in 1990. Aragona, a District 3 and Region 1 champion, has a non-stop motor and is very skilled on his feet. Looking at the 106-pound bracket, the top half of the draw, where Aragona resides, is loaded. First, Aragona will face East Brunswick's Mitchell Polito (31-2), a Region 5 champ, and could see Kyle Kaiser of Paramus in the quarters. Warren Hills freshman Cody Harrison, who placed third in Region 1, is a common opponent, as he dropped a 7-0 decision to Kaiser and a 3-1 decision to Aragona in the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex finals.

Career mark: 36-0.
Previous state appearances: None.

Kyle Markus (32-7), Phillipsburg -- Making his second appearance, last year at 106, Markus has the talent to make some noise here at 113 pounds. The senior and runner-up in Region 1, would see a familiar foe in the second round, provided he gets past a preliminary bout against Jackson Liberty's Nicholas Pellegrino (31-8), who was third in Region 6. The winner of that one will get the winner of a prelim between Howell's Jimmy Slendorn and Lenape Valley's Jacob Falleni, who was third in Region 1. Markus beat Slendorn, 4-2, on Jan. 14. Markus and Falleni did not meet at the Hunterdon-Warren-Sussex Tournament -- Markus won the 113-pound title -- or at Region 1 this past Saturday. Delbarton state runner-up Patrick Glory should loom in the quarterfinal round.

Career mark: 62-23.
Previous state appearances: 0-2, first round of wrestlebacks.

Robert Garcia (32-5), Pope John -- This is one impressive freshman who has continuously gotten better throughout the season. After placing third at a very brutal weight class in Region 1, where he avenged a loss to Warren Hills' Matt Valli and beat Hackettstown's Joe Renne for a second time this season, Garcia seems poised to make a run at a state medal. Garcia is in a very difficult part of the draw, as he will face returning state placewinner John Burger of New Milford in Friday's prelims. Newton's Wyatt McCarthy is a common opponent, as he topped Burger, 3-1, on Feb. 13. Garcia handed McCarthy an 8-5 loss at the John Goles Invitational on Dec. 28.

Career mark: 32-5.
Previous state appearances: None.

Kyle DiNapoli (28-0), Voorhees -- After placing eighth last season at 120 pounds, DiNapoli is looking to become just the eighth wrestler to win multiple state medals for the Hunterdon County school. His coach, Eric Hall, finished second in 1996, fourth in '95 and seventh-eighth in '94. DiNapoli was sidelined with a concussion earlier this season, but he appears to be clicking on all cylinders after winning his first Region 5 title. He awaits the winner of the prelim between Lou Raimo of Hanover Park and Russell Benson of Raritan. Roxbury's Troy Stanich, voted the OW at Region 1 who was sixth in the state last year, should be there waiting in the quarterfinals.

Career mark: 124-26.
Previous state appearances: Eighth place at 120 pounds in 2015; went 1-2 and reached the second round of wrestlebacks at 113 in '14.

Brandon Paetzell (12-3), Phillipsburg -- Great to see the Phillipsburg senior get one more shot at winning that elusive gold medal after finishes of fifth and second at 106 pounds in 2013 and '14. Paetzell, now at 132, missed most of last season with a broken thumb, going 12-0 before sustaining the the injury, and was out of action for nearly two months this season after suffering a broken left hand during a match with DiNapoli on Dec. 23. Paetzell, who got his 100th career win in the Region 1 finals, drew the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket. He awaits the winner of the prelim between Reid White of St. Augustine and Gerald Jones of Caldwell. In the quarters, a potential showdown with either Edison's Robert Cleary or Delaware Valley's Matt Kolonia could be on tap. Paetzell, who is looking to become the Stateliners' first three-time medal winner since John Garriques (fourth in '95, fifth-sixth in '96 and second in '97).

Career mark: 100-12.
Previous state appearances: Fifth place at 106 pounds in 2013; Second place at 106 in '14.

Austin Scrivani (34-1), Kittatinny -- Making his third straight trip to Atlantic City, Scrivani, who is tied for fifth on the Sussex County school's all-time wins list, is not to be overlooked at 138 pounds. The senior is dangerous from any position, and will be hungry to grab a medal after falling one win shy a year ago at 132. Scrivani, who rolled to his first Region 1 title, will face either Nick Legreaux of Passaic Tech or Vincent Hellthaler in the pre-quarterfinals. A second-round matchup with either Howell's Kris Lindemann or South Plainfield's Kyle Bythell would be a dandy.

Career mark: 130-27.
Previous state appearances: Went 0-2 at 132 pounds in 2014; Went 2-2, fourth round of wrestlebacks at 132 in '15.

Nick Palumbo (33-7), Lenape Valley -- After a third-place finish at 145 pounds in Region 1, Palumbo makes his first appearance at Boardwalk Hall. He will open against Bishop Ahr's John Sheedy, with the winner to face Don Bosco Prep's Taylor Shay (15-3) in the pre-quarterfinals. Of Palumbo's seven losses, just three have been at 145, including two to Montville junior Dominic Fano -- 5-2 and 2-1 in the District 2 finals and Region 1 semifinals.

Career mark: 83-26.
Previous state appearances: None.

Robert Melise (37-2), Phillipsburg -- After finishing fifth at 220 pounds last year, Melise is among the contenders at this weight class, coming off a 3-1 win in sudden-victory overtime against DePaul's Scott Lavelle, who placed third at 220 in 2015. Melise is the No. 2 seed in the bottom bracket due to a 5-2 loss to St. Augustine's James Brady at the Beast of the East on Dec. 20. Should Melise win his first two matchups as expected, he may get a rematch with Brady in the semis. But Brady will likely have to get past South Plainfield's Zach DelVecchio (35-1), a Region 3 champion who is one tough freshman. Holy Cross senior Matt Correnti, a runner-up last year, is the favorite to win it all here.

Career mark: 80-17.
Previous state appearances: Fifth place at 220 pounds in 2015.

Victor Lacombe (31-3), Hunterdon Central -- Really made a name for himself this season after going 16-10 as a sophomore. Lacombe has two losses in this weight class -- a 5-3 decision to Old Bridge's Dan Makagon on Feb. 10, which the Red Devil avenged in the Region 5 finals this past Saturday by the same score, and Lacombe was pinned in overtime by Melise in a dual meet on Jan. 27. After a first-round bye, Lacombe will likely face Lavelle in the pre-quarterfinals. St. Joseph-Montvale's Michael Carfagno also is lurking in this quarter of the draw. Lacombe also has a 7-3 victory over Middlesex's Jack Sweeney, who was third in Region 3, and a technical fall win over Delran's Devin Rolon, a third-place finisher in Region 7.

Career mark: 47-13.
Previous state appearances: None.

Kyle Nothnagel (35-5), Phillipsburg -- People are still buzzing after Nothnagel's 8-6 upset-loss to High Point's Kevin Lewis at 285 pounds in the Region 1 finals. Nothnagel, who beat Lewis for third last year to advance to AC, should be plenty motivated this weekend, considering he went 2-2 and was a round shy of a medal last season. Nothnagel will first face Perth Amboy's Jose Caceres in the prelims and the road seems open from there. Union City's Jonathan Beltre (30-0) could await in the quarterfinals. Beltre is coached by former Kittatinny standout Mike Mabel.

Career mark: 98-23.
Previous state appearances: Went 2-2, fourth round of wrestlebacks.

Kevin Lewis (29-8), High Point -- After his stunning victory over Nothnagel, Lewis put himself in the conversation for a state medal. Wrestling at 195 pounds most of the season should be a plus as Lewis was much quicker and had more gas in the tank than Nothnagel, who like most heavyweights is not used to going hard for six minutes against opponents who are as athletic. Lewis gets a tough one right out of the gate, as he'll face Don Bosco Prep's Eric Chakonis (23-4),  Region 2 champion and one of the title contenders here.

Career mark: 61-22.
Previous state appearances: None.

Other area qualifiers (20):

Delaware Valley -- AJ DeRosa (113), Matt Kolonia (132), Connor Mills (138), Kyle Lightner (182), Kyle Schlittler (195)
Hunterdon Central -- Jack Bauer (106), Hunter Graf (113), Kevin Ciresa (145), Michael Iodice (170)
Phillipsburg -- Brian Meyer (145), DJ Wissing (152)
Pope John -- Jake Rotunda (120), Jake Brown (182)
Hackettstown -- Alex Carida (132)
Hopatcong -- Anthony Mastroeni (132)
Lenape Valley -- Jacob Falleni (113)
North Hunterdon -- Derek Ciavarro (160)
North Warren -- Anthony Duardo (152)
Warren Hills -- Cody Harrison (106), Jarod Ostir (170, out with an elbow injury)

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